Sarit contacted me a while ago. She told me she had converted a few years ago, married, and has three children. Now she's been separated from her husband for three years, and he's urging her to finalize their divorce.
But she's worried that if she asks a rabbinic court to arrange the get, the judges will cancel her conversion. This would mean, of course, that her children who were born years after her conversion would also be declared not Jewish.
"I said to my husband, 'What do you need the piece of paper for? Let's just each of us go and live our lives without a divorce!'" Sarit told me, almost in tears. "But he insisted on the divorce and doesn't seem to care that this will blacklist our children and prevent them from marrying!"
Sarit even recruited her father-in-law in her support, who like her, was worried that his grandchildren may be put on the blacklist of those who cannot marry (pesulei-hitun). But her husband kept insisting that she agree to a get.
During our conversation, we considered a number of options should the rabbis ask Sarit about her religious observance in the event she did agree to go to court. Sarit suggested the possibility of the "lie."
I told her that I could not support this approach, and besides, I explained to her, it's not so easy to lie and claim that one keeps the Commandments when one does not. It's pretty easy to see through these types of lies.
We suggested that Sarit simply refuse to answer questions posed by the rabbinic judges. "I'll just tell them that I came for a get, and I don't intend to answer questions relating to my lifestyle. What's that got to do with my divorce?"
I explained to her that under the current circumstances, a court may well refuse to arrange the divorce until she responds to its questions. If she wanted to fight for the right to a get without a court inquiring into her personal life, she'd have to be willing to undertake complicated legal proceedings that could consume a lot of time and effort.
Sarit proposed that she ban her children from watching TV or playing on the computer on Shabbat, at least for the coming months, so that she could declare in court: "We do not watch TV or play computer games on Shabbat," without it being a lie. I told her the problems with this sort of presentation.
After talking for about half an hour, I began to get a completely different picture of Sarit's life. She doesn't drive on Saturday ("my husband and children drive on Shabbat, but I don't"). She lights Shabbat candles regularly and makes a blessing over the Shabbat wine. She recites the ritual blessing to commemorate the end of the Shabbat (havdalah).
What's more, Sarit maintained the laws of family purity during all the years of her marriage until her husband declared, "I'm not touching you anymore." In fact, after her conversion, Sarit lived for several years in religious neighborhoods and took part in the activities of the religious community.
Anyway, it soon became clear that Sarit had not converted for the purpose of marrying, but out of the sincere desire to be closer to the God of Israel, and first met her husband five years after the conversion. Until she married, she kept the Commandments, big and small.
I gave a sigh of relief, and explained to Sarit (who was crying) that there was no reason in the world anyone in any court should even think of canceling her conversion. "But I don't go to synagogue, anymore," Sarit sobbed. "And I don't consult with rabbis," she continued. "Or keep everything that I promised the rabbis I would keep."
I had to do some serious convincing before Sarit internalized that she had kept the Commandments, and still keeps the most important ones to this very day. I assured her, although I knew it was not necessarily true, that there was no chance a court would abrogate her conversion.
So, with the fear of God, Sarit agreed to go to court and arrange for a divorce. In court, the rabbis asked her, "Do you keep the Commandments?" She answered "Yes." "Do you eat kosher?" She answered "Yes." And to the question, "Are you keeping the laws of family purity?" Sarit replied: "Yes. But now I have no husband." Sarit passed the rabbis' test, and her husband gave her a get.
Sarit's story ended well, thanks to a lot of coaching and no little amount of luck. But dozens of other cases end very badly. This scare campaign has to stop, and with it all the relentless digging into the private lives of people by rabbinic judges who sit on the official courts of the State of Israel and collect a salary paid from taxpayer money.
I wonder: How did the rabbinic judges manage to convince us all of a new law – that it is possible to undo a conversion? How did they get the general public to cooperate with them and to hold our breath every time a convert walks into the four wall of a rabbinic court hoping to get out of there a Jew? Two points for the court, 0 points for the people and the Halacha.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice
. Tel. 972-2-5664390